INF537: Critical Reflection

Golden Snitch
An extract from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I feel the phrase “I open at the close” is incredibly pertinent to my two year journey through this Masters of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation) – I feel humbled by the scale of work still ahead of me but prepared for the challenge.

Three themes have defined my study during INF537 (my last unit of this degree):

The Three Digitals

  • Digital literacy
  • Digital scholarship
  • Digital citizenship

I have grown my understanding of each of these areas and how they interrelate. Dave Cormier’s blog on teaching digital literacy really opened up the path forward for me and solidified my thoughts on my own digital literacy teaching.

Digital scholarship and digital citizenship became intertwined in my thinking for assignment 2 (probably to the detriment of my focus on digital scholarship). I started to reflect on the social benefits and costs of being digitally connected. This degree has shown the wonderful benefits of being a connected learner but this easy interconnection has increased the workload on educators and other workers as there is an expectation of immediate response. As a digital citizen I will have to find the balance between time when I am online and when I am disconnected both for my own wellbeing and to set an example to others.

Open versus closed

People sitting in the park
Photo by Leah Kelley from Pexels

Thinking about open source versus closed source began with my reflection on Siemens’ argument that networks are confined by the systems in which they are situated. My initial thinking was that, if this confinement is the case, why would you choose an artificially confined system such as a proprietary system? I explored this idea in this post about open source versus closed sourcee commercial software. I determined that, like in the park pictured above, that setting clear bounds for a system is important to create clear expectations and responsibilities. This bounded system is what the digital commons relies upon, as without limits, a community can become so diffuse that it becomes impossible to manage.

Application of ideas

Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels

When I have been most frustrated in this unit and degree, it has been when I have read articles where scholars discuss technological change and adoption as if it were a foregone conclusion. I have to check myself when I get in to this mode as I have worked implementing ICT projects and therefore come at a problem from a practical perspective that is not always compatible with pushing the boundaries of possibility. Just as I have to learn to appreciate a scholarly approach, I believe it should be incumbent on scholars to expand their digital literacy to understand the challenges of organisational ICT, allowing them to envisage how to bridge the path between their vision and implementation, this will ensure research has the best chance of making a practical difference.

Conclusion

This degree has provided the framework for where I want to position myself in the world – as a connected learner who continues to expand their digital literacy to grow as a digital citizen and scholar. The INF537 research project on my community of practice has been a great way to conclude my studies as throughout this course, this community of practice has been my main outlet for experimenting with the concepts I have learned. The community has developed and grown along the way (you can view the change in the 7 related blog posts) but there is still a lot of opportunities for myself and my community to grow. As my degree draws to a close, I am open to the opportunities.

 

The conundrum of open source software in education

Having read about the dubious business practices of some companies within the EdTech industry, such as Turnitin profiting from the intellectual property of students, I have been reflecting on whether I should try and only use open source software when teaching.

When a lot of jobs are asking for applicants who have skills in particular commercial software such as Microsoft Office suite, by using open source alternatives are we harming future job prospects or does the tool agnostic approach taken prepare students to be able to adapt to whatever technology is being used?

I would argue that a platform agnostic approach usually allows for greater adaptability but it often misses out on the mastery of a particular platform that may help a student to stand out. Additionally, if you do not provide students with the opportunity to use expensive software, then they will probably never get the chance as the cost is prohibitive to personal use. One example is Photoshop (a professional photo editing tool) versus GIMP (the open source equivalent). Photoshop has a number of unique tools that allow you to automate the design process and as creative industry often uses Photoshop, the student may struggle in an interview if asked what processes they use to save time in design as GIMP does not have these features.

Another question is that in the era of cloud computing when large amounts of information is not stored locally on a computer, is it responsible to rely on open source projects to make sure that data is secure? Are commercial alternatives any more secure?

Neither solution is perfect here. Both open source and commercial tools have and will continue to be subject to data breaches. Open source can suffer from lack of accountability for data breaches and also not having dedicated resourcing to fixing flaws and vulnerabilities. There are projects by Google, GitHub and many others to try and solve this by providing funding and advice to improve security. However, as commercial tools are more widespread, hackers tend to focus on them as there is an economy of scale in their efforts. For commercial products you at least have someone to hold accountable when your data is breached but that is not much comfort. Therefore, probably the best approach from a security perspective is to teach students not rely on the security of any product and to put the minimum amount of personal data in to a system as possible.

But maybe this approach is overly cautious and would prevent students from embracing digital scholarship… so really all types of software create a conundrum.